Utah (ABC4) –Many school districts are anxiously waiting for Governor Spencer Cox to sign House Bill 477. The bill increases funding to allow school districts to expand their full-day kindergarten programs.  

According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Robert Spendlove (R-Sandy), Utah has the lowest percentage of student access to full-day kindergarten in the country.   

Spendlove told ABC4 that only three out of every 10 kindergarten-aged children in Utah have access to full-day kindergarten. He said this is far below the national average of eight out of every 10 children.   

Parents will still be able to choose half-day kindergarten or no kindergarten for their children. “Kindergarten will continue to be optional,” Spendlove said. However, a pilot program points to the most sought-after choice: full-day kindergarten.   

“In Washington County, 94 percent of parents signed up,” Spendlove said. “In Rich County and Carbon County, it was 100 percent, so we’ve seen that this program is really popular when it’s offered.”  

In Utah, the weighted pupil unit, or WPU, is used to determine how much funding a school program needs to work. Currently, kindergarten is worth 0.55 WPUs while grades one through 12 are all worth 1.0 WPUs. The bill would change that.

The bill would increase WPUs for elementary schools. Kindergarten will not be weighted the same as other grades, but it would be closer. Next year, it would means there will be nearly $100 million in new funding for kindergarten programs across the state.  

“Our biggest struggle has been that there’s been so much more demand for this than availability,” Spendlove stated. Davis County School District, Weber School District, and Ogden School District can all attest to that statement.  

“When we offer full day, even though they may start out half-day, at the beginning of the school year, we find that most transition to full-day,” WSD Community Relations Specialist Lane Findlay told ABC4.  

He explained that WSD offers full-day kindergarten at 12 of its elementary schools. Prior to this bill being passed, the district was looking at expanding into a couple more of its schools. “Now, we’re looking at having it at our 29 elementary schools,” Findlay added.  

Davis School District is also looking to expand. According to the district, 12 of its 62 elementary schools already offer full-day kindergarten. Right now, 35 principals in the district hope to see the program in their schools as well.   

“The vast majority of our parents have requested, when it’s available, a full-day kindergarten option,” OSD Communications Director Jer Bates stated.  

He explained that 28 of the district’s elementary schools already have full-day kindergarten. However, due to the lack of state funding, offering the program so widely across the district keeps the budget stretched thin.

Bates said the state funding would not only improve kindergarten programs but would allow the district to reallocate some of its current funds to other needs.

“It will help us ensure that those classrooms are fully equipped with the teachers and everything they need for those kindergarten students to not just get by but to really thrive,” he stated.  

“We’re just simply thrilled the state has seen the impact that a full-day kindergarten program can produce for kids and that they’re helping enable this to be expanded throughout the state,” Bates said.

In an area that has many dual-income families, having more options for young children may be beneficial for those families. However, Bates said the greatest impact will be on the kids who need a little extra help.

“It means we can change their trajectory and help them so much more quickly to reach their peers,” Bates said. “[They would] reach the state standards that we would expect for children at that age, and then really start to improve their trajectory where they can start to excel.” 

Rep. Spendlove said school districts will have time to slowly add more full-day kindergarten programs in their schools to help them with the growing pains. Additional teachers, classrooms, and supplies may be needed in the schools that adopt the program.